For many Americans, the official kickoff to summer picnic and grilling season happens this weekend. With all of that food handling happening, it’s inevitable than many of us will end our fun afternoons with no-so-fun circumstances. An estimated 128,000 people nationwide will end up in the hospital with foodborne illnesses this year, but many of these can be prevented by properly cooking and storing foods when traveling and cooking out.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recommends that you refresh your memory on food safety before diving into summer festivities.

Grilling basics:
  1. Keep perishable foods at or below 40ºF.
  2. Food should never sit out longer than 2 hours. If weather is hot, knock this down to 60 minutes.
  3. Pack separate coolers for perishable items and other items like drinks, if people will be reaching in and out. This will ensure your meats or poultry stay cold, while you still have access to chilled beverages.
  4. Prevent juices from raw meat from contaminating other items by making sure they’re stored in individual waterproof containers.

If you’re traveling with perishable foods items like raw meat or poultry, you need to take special precautions before hitting the grill. Bacteria grow rapidly in warm temperatures, so foods need kept at 40ºF or below to reduce the likelihood of illness. If foods sit above 40º for more than two hours, they should be discarded.

If you’re grilling out, prepare ahead and keep these items handy to help ensure a safe meal:
  • Food thermometer
  • Paper towels or moist wet wipes
  • Two sets of cooking utensils (you don’t want to handle raw food with the same set as cooked foods).
  • Two plates or containers (you don’t want to place cooked foods back in the same container that held the raw meat).

a Temperature guide for grilled meat

One of the best things you can do is invest in a thermometer and reference it often. Here’s what to check for:

  • Beef, pork, lamb or veal (steaks, roasts or chops): Internal temperatures at least 145ºF with a three-minute rest time.
  • Ground meats: 160ºF
  • Whole poultry, poultry breasts or ground poultry: 165ºF

Clean up

When you’re done grilling, make sure all leftovers are refrigerated or put on ice within two hours after cooking — the time clock starts as soon as meat is removed from the grill. Any leftovers should be rated within three or four days if refrigerated properly.

If you have specific questions about foodborne illnesses or your grilling situation, get additional USDA information at

Also see, Back to school food safety for parents.

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Meghan is a full-time writer exploring the fun facts behind food. She lives a healthy lifestyle but lives for breakfast, dessert and anything with marinara. She’s thrown away just as many meals as she’s proud of.